Saturday, December 27, 2008

Becoming an Alaskan Girl

For awhile, I worried Mitike had lost the sun.

Transported from eastern Africa half-way across the planet and then northwest to a small city in southeast Alaska, she now lives in a place where sun-sightings are cause for local newspaper articles and animated sidewalk conversations. She now lives in a temperate rainforest -- cool and misty most of the year, except when it's cold and snowy. Watch her: after only five months in her new home, she insists that she cannot leave the house without hat, mittens, coat, snowpants, boots.

Mourning the loss of warmth and golden light for her, I decide we need to visit a friend in California. In the Juneau airport, someone asks, "Why are you going to California?" at the exact moment my toddler is standing at the window excitedly pointing to some slightly brighter rain clouds. "Look, Mama!" she cries, "SUNSHINE!" I look at the stranger. "Ah, I see," she says, her brow furrowed as if TK has a medical condition.

And yes, California kept its bright promise -- TK and I strolled down the sidewalk in our sandals, coatless and hatless, and smelled purple and pink flowers; we zoomed down slides free of frost; we fed ducks on the edge of unfrozen lakes; we sat outside at a coffee shop and wriggled our bare toes. "Sunshine -- isn't it beautiful?" I repeated again and again, and my sweet girl would nod, mimicking the way I closed my eyes and soaked it all in.

But when we returned home to Juneau -- just in time for Christmas -- we returned home to SNOW, that fluffy, glistening, bright, white amnesia-causing beauty. Now TK trundles happily after her older friends, her little purple snowsuit impeding her usual stride -- and then the deep snow tripping her. She nestles beneath a fleece blanket on the sled and shouts, "More, more!" as I pull her down the snowy sidewalk. She and I zoom down the sledding hill together on our orange sled, TK laughing, her hands up like she's on a roller coaster. Sunshine seems completely unimportant, suddenly.

Then tonight, in a burst of Alaskan craziness, TK decided to strip off all her clothes (diaper, too), put on her snow boots, encourage Katie to do the same, and then run out into the snow. The two girls did a silly dance out there, lit by the purple icicle lights hanging from our house's roof edge, laughing, laughing. The air was cold, and dark -- it gets dark at about 3:30 p.m. this time of year -- and the unplowed snow on either side of the girls easily cleared TK's head. TK shook her bum and then waved her hands back and forth until I gathered her into my arms and pulled her back inside. "More, more!" she asked, giggling.

This is not a girl who is pining for warm sunshine. This is an Alaskan girl -- already so in love with our weird dark, cold, snowy landscape that the only sensible thing to do is to run outside naked and perform a silly dance.

At least she doesn't know how to make snow angels yet.